Women Welders Past, Present, and Future
When Megan Kenney enrolled in a noncredit fabrication workshop for women just for fun during her first year at Hampshire College, she had no idea it would shape her future to such a large degree. Four years later, the Manchester, Vermont, native, who will graduate on May 17, is completing her final academic project on the history of women welders.
"I had never done any welding, or worked with power tools of any kind before college, and I just fell in love with it," she said. "It was a whole new way to get my creative energy out. I felt empowered."
Throughout college, Kenney continued to work in the Dorothy and Jerome Lemelson Center for Design at Hampshire, a design and fabrication resource available to all members of the campus community. She also spent a semester working at Arcosanti, an architectural community in Arizona, where she further honed her welding and construction skills.
Her Division III research paper—140 pages in draft form that only promises to get longer—is titled "Don't Let Them Sit on the Bench: Women Welders Past, Present and Future." In it, Kenney takes a cross-disciplinary approach, blending history, economics, and sociology.
The paper begins with Rosie the Riveter and the active recruitment of women welders during World War II, examines social forces pushing women back into traditional roles during the 1950s, explores the impact of progressive social movements during the sixties and seventies, and analyzes why so few women today are employed in the skilled trades, including welding. In her conclusion, Kenney visualizes possibilities for women in poverty to improve their lives through the skilled trades.
Researching and writing the paper, along with her own love of welding, has led Kenney to serious consideration of a career teaching shop, possibly at the middle school level. Petite and soft-spoken, she thinks her presence as a female shop teacher might challenge some stereotypes for students at middle school age. She is getting practical experience as a teaching assistant in the same fabrication workshop at Hampshire in which she discovered welding.
In addition to her paper, Kenney's Division III includes welding two metal frame benches, working in the Lemelson Center, that she plans to give to Hampshire when she graduates. She has asked the college to consider putting them in two spots on campus that are special to her. One spot overlooks Mt. Norwottuck and is near the college's financial aid office, where she has held a work-study job, and the other is near the Lemelson Center.
The faculty committee overseeing Kenney's Division III is economics professor Laurie Nisonoff (chair), literature professor Lise Sanders, with whom Kenney has studied feminist theory, and Robin MacEwan, who teaches the Lemelson women's fabrication course.
"I feel like my project speaks to why people should come to Hampshire," said Kenney. "It enabled me to combine my academic interests in research, writing, and teaching with my love of welding."